London is a tough place; that’s not news to anyone. But people still arrive, a few pounds in hand, expecting that everything will turn out just fine. Sometimes it does, but plenty of times it really doesn’t. Why? Because London is a no-nonsense kinda place. It’s a place where you need to fight to survive.
So yeah, let me take this opportunity just to say: are you sure you want to move here? There’s this whole #BrexitShambles thing you may have heard of. Are you sure you don’t want a more liberal and excited-to-have-you country? Like… Canada?
Yes? Really? Okay then.
I’m joking of course. I love living in London. I wouldn’t still be here otherwise because it’s been kicking my butt for four years. But I still love it because all the culture, the art, the buzz, the people, the opportunities for my kind of work and interests, are here. I’m not leaving any time soon (Brexit permitting…).
So, if any of that sounds like your bag, let’s do this.
Are you ready?
Before you arrive
Research the parts of London you might be interested in living in
Inside Central London there are a whole bunch of different parts of town that you could live in. People tend to find an area that suits their personality and stick with it; in my case, I love North London. I’ve previously lived in West London (which I found a bit dull) and South London (which has the worst transport connections, but is often very trendy). So I’m happy where I am now. But the areas are so different to each other that it pays to read up. Obviously it’s going to become much more obvious when you walk through those areas, but come with some idea of what is appealing to each part of town.
I never considered living outside of central London but many people do — it’s obviously much, much cheaper. I’ve definitely come to terms with the fact that most my money disappears on rent, but it’s not for everyone. Personally, the lifestyle of being within 30 minutes of work is important to me. So figure out first what it is that you’re willing to trade off.
Have a sensible idea of a budget (and some savings!)
So here’s the thing that keeps coming up: London is expensive. So think about this before you get in. You’re pretty unlikely to find a rental room for under £600 a month in this town (and that will be pretty tough too), plus council tax (which depends on the council and the cost band the place falls under, but can be £30–80 a month depending. You don’t pay if you’re a student!), electricity (has always been about £20–40 in my experience), mobile phone (£15–20), water (£20), internet (£20ish)… Finding a job might also take time, so if you don’t have something lined up you really need to get some savings together and arrive with a few months of living supplies.
I think it’s tough to get away on less than £15 a day (for transportation, food, etc), unless you’re really savvy on where you’re spending or have some help in place. So please research your needs and have some money tucked away, before you get in.
Get your documents in order
Passports, birth certificate, whatever will help initially prove that you are who you say you are. You’re going to need to do a lot of admin as soon as you arrive, so get on top of this as early as possible. If you’ve ever rented, it could be useful to have a reference handy. Same for any jobs. And if you have savings back home, bring evidence of that too.
When You Arrive
National Insurance Number
You need one of these in order to work. So get onto your local JobCentre. You can book online to go in, show all your documentation, and prove you’re eligible to work in the UK. They’ll provide you a number by post, so this does take some time and is worth booking in advance, if you can.
Here’s a fun one: it’s almost impossible to get a bank account without an address, and almost impossible to get an address without a bank account. Fun times. But if you know anyone who can provide you an address and you can prove you’re coming to be productive in the UK, you should be able to get a local account. It’s worth checking if your home bank account has any connection with any UK bank. Otherwise, you might have to find a room and pay some rental upfront, in order to secure an address (or have a guarantor). Then you’ll be able to get an account — eventually. You can compare lots of different types, though it definitely is much easier if you’re a student.
The fun really begins here. Estate agents in the UK are basically the most horrendous people, so get prepared for some top class BS on this one. If you look for a whole apartment via conventional routes (Zoopla or Rightmove, etc), you’ll have to prove you can afford a place, show any possible references, and pay a deposit and four to six weeks upfront. You’ll also likely have to pay agent fees (usually in the order of £200 for… no good reason at all). Many places are scrapping the fees now and it is worth investigating, because it’s a tonne of money for basically no real service. Fees are banned in Scotland, but that policy hasn’t quite reached the south yet.
So investigate other options like OpenRent, which lets you deal direct with a landlord, or agencies that specifically don’t charge, if you’d rather not get hit with extra fees on top of all the other upfront costs. They just charge about £20 for a referencing check, should the landlord request one.
Other options, if you’re just looking for a room rather than a whole place for yourself, is to use a site like SpareRoom. This is a bit like flatmate dating at times, as you have to write up a description and figure out what kind of person the flat is looking for for their spare room. But it can be a great way to go and a lot cheaper than a whole apartment (often less strenuous on details and paperwork too).
Some things you really should be aware of with the property market here:
- Please do not pay to view a flat. This is a scam, do not do it. Anyone who says you need to pay in order to merely view a flat is a con artist, so just move on. Some “agents” do this too — ignore them. They are crooks, there are tonnes of other apartments out there.
- Some agents will lie and cheat to get you to ‘bid’ with your rent, suggesting that others are interested in the same place and have offered more money in order to get you to increase your rental offering. Be clear what your limit is on this, and whether it’s worth engaging. After all, there are always more spare rooms and spare flats in London, so don’t freak out if you lose a place.
- Ensure your deposit is going to a Deposit Protection Scheme. It’s illegal for this not to occur, but particularly if you are renting direct, some landlords may not be as on top of this as they should be. So ask ahead, check, and have your deposit protected by a third party. Do not give your deposit in cash. It shouldn’t be kept by your landlord or an agent to be returned at their discretion, that is illegal. It should be protected so that if there is an issue when you move out, it goes through a third party channel and is properly investigated. This way you can avoid having your deposit unnecessarily withheld.
Building a credit score
This all gets easier once you’ve been in the country 6+ months. Keep track of all your key addresses — on your bank account, any credit cards, the electoral roll, etc. As soon as you are able to join an electoral roll, do so. All the addresses connected to you and your place of residence will help you build a history. If you’re ever hoping to live a normal life in the UK, you’re going to need to build a credit score. So definitely get this in order by keeping addresses up to date, and seeking out a credit card or overdraft if you’re eligible. A service like ClearScore can help you down the track to keep on top of this.
Depending on where you’ve all come in from, you may or may not have instant access to the National Health Service. Quite important if you ever need any health care in the UK. So check your country’s individual agreement with the UK. If you’ve come from the EU, you’re currently automatically entitled. But unfortunately, even if you’re from the Commonwealth, there’s usually an additional fee you have to pay in order to get any access to health care. There is a tonne more information about this here.
I want to note here that you can’t live in London without an Oyster card, and you should get into detail on the available ‘travelcards’ as they will save you cash. This really depends on which zones you’re likely to travel between, so check out the above link for more information on that. You can also use your contactless card for transportation, but you have to register online on Transport for London’s website.
Another thing to mention is the Railcard. If you’re 16-25, you’ve got immediate access to a Railcard which will give you cheaper train travel across the UK. There’s another one coming soon for us who are 26-30 and still can’t afford trains anywhere, which is due to be released in the new year. Definitely sign up for one of these if you can — any discounts are great, of course, and trust me, you’ll want a day or two outside London once in a while. So it’s a win-win.
Okay, all the practical stuff aside…
Look up activities to get involved with
Meeting people in London is HARD. Really hard. And meeting ‘original Londoners’…. well, forget it. I mean, they’re around. But chances are you will more easily meet other newcomers to London, or people who moved here with the same ideas once upon a time. All my friends come from other towns and cities outside London in the UK, or are from abroad.
For me, the best place to start was with Meetup. Through Meetup, I made my first real connections in London, that are still with me today. Plenty of people meet friends through flatmates, which is good too, but if you’ve got a particular kind of activity you enjoy or you want to meet other newcomers, Meetup offers a wealth of options.
Get involved in the community
There are tonnes of ways to get involved and feel more a part of London life, but a particularly lovely way is through volunteering. Team London is a fantastic source for this, and you can volunteer for all kinds of causes doing all kinds of things. This can be great as an interim too, when you’re looking for a permanent role.
Find your niche
Are you into sports? Arts? Theatre? There are literally endless possibilities in London, so whatever you’re into, there’s a class, workshop, club or event for that. It’s time to start googling and seeking out London events that will help you connect to this unwieldy city. Whether it’s fitness related or music related, or whatever, you need to get involved and make the most of this incredible place to live. I know it’s an adjustment. The pace of life is totally different. But I honesty believe that having cultivated interests and being quite active is the best antidote to the occasional aggression, the darkness, the wetness and coldness of London life.
What About Brexit?
Good question. We’d all like to know. I wrote recently on what EU citizens should do to prepare, but that only applies if you get here before Brexit happens. We still have no clear answers, otherwise. So I can’t really be more helpful on this one.
Get Ready for Brexit: Advice to EU Nationals in the UK
Fellow EU nationals, it’s time to get organised.
I hope this is a good starting point for you, if you’re considering a big move over here. You might also appreciate my other London article, which is much more about the misconceptions of living here (and is mostly a laugh, I promise!):
Is there anything else you’d like to know about London life? I’m always happy to answer questions.